Visiting the gallery
Spanning over 700 years, Room 41 traces the story of Europe from AD 300.
The centuries AD 300–1100 witnessed great change in Europe. The Roman Empire broke down in the west, but continued as the Byzantine Empire in the east. People, objects and ideas travelled across the continent, while Christianity and Islam emerged as major religions. By 1100, the precursors of several modern states had developed.
Europe as we know it today was taking shape. Room 41 gives an overview of the period and its peoples. Its unparalleled collections range from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, and from North Africa to Scandinavia. The gallery's centrepiece is the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk – one of the most spectacular and important discoveries in British archaeology.
By AD 500, invasions, religious infighting and political strife had disrupted life in the Roman Empire and it eventually broke down, only enduring in the east as the Byzantine Empire.
A few miles from the Suffolk coast, the Sutton Hoo ship burial was one of the most exciting discoveries in British archaeology, and one that profoundly exploded the myth of the 'Dark Ages'.
There are two Sutton Hoo helmets in Room 41, the original and a replica showing how the original previously looked. The original helmet is extremely rare, only one of four known complete helmets from Anglo-Saxon England.
At the heart of the Sutton Hoo ship burial was a chamber surrounded by riches from Byzantium and beyond, pointing to the existence of international connections.
The origin of the term 'Viking' is uncertain, perhaps coming from Old Norse words for pirates, seaborne expeditions, or an area in south-eastern Norway called Viken.
A double-edged sword, such as that on display, was the most prestigious weapon used by Vikings, only available to high-status warriors.